ALL-IN BRAWL

EIGHT VERY DIFFERENT VEHICLES ARE VYING FOR THE 4X4 OF THE YEAR CROWN, BUT THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE WINNERÖ

WORDS FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS ELLEN DEWAR

8 VEHICLES, 6 DAYS, 6 JUDGES, MORE THAN 1000KM

THE EIGHT vehicles fighting for the honour of being the 4X4 of the Year are here for one reason: they are the best new 4x4s from 2018. Some are new from the ground up, while others are a revision of an existing model.

As ever, the shortlist represents more than just the best new 4x4s for the year; itís also a reflection of the trends at play in the broader 4x4 market. Of the eight shortlisted vehicles, six are utes and one of the other two is ute-based. All eight are diesels and seven have just four cylinders. Of the eight vehicles, seven have automatic rather than manual gearboxes. While the field is skewed by having three Fords with the same 2.0-litre/10-speed powertrain, thereís still a broad trend to smaller capacity engines and automatics with an increasing number of ratios. Six of the eight engines are 2.3 litres or smaller, and six of the seven automatics have more than six speeds.

Also in a sign of the times we have emerging Ďbudgetí brands in the form of Indiaís Mahindra and South Koreaís SsangYong coming hot on the heels of Chinese brand Havalís appearance in 4X4OTY in the last two years.

While there are many similarities in the technology on display thereís still a broad spread of prices, with the most expensive vehicle, the Ford Ranger Raptor, more than twice the price of the least expensive, the Mahindra Pik-Up. In between (in ascending as-tested price) is the SsangYong Rexton, VW Amarok V6 Core, Ford Ranger, Ford Everest, HSV Colorado SportsCat+ and Mercedes-Benz X250d.

However, this is not a comparison test and, while the eight shortlisted vehicles are referenced against each other Ė which is inevitable given they are driven back-to-back Ė they are not judged against each other. Instead, they are judged against the awardís five longstanding criteria (listed on page 45). Each judge scores each vehicle for each criterion out of ten, for a possible maximum of 50 points. The individual totals are then tallied to determine the winner.

The testing procedure involves set-piece 4x4 tests, touring on a wide variety of sealed and unsealed roads, traversing an even wider variety of outback tracks, cabin seating tests, luggage area appraisal, and under-bonnet inspections. For all but one night of the test we camped out, so we also had to Ďliveí out of the vehicle as well as drive them.

Letís get to it then!

VALUE ē INNOVATION ē BUILD ē BUSHABILITY

4X4OTY JUDGING CRITERIA

VALUE FOR MONEY

What the vehicle offers rated against what it costs. Expensive vehicles can be good value just as less expensive vehicles can be poor value.

BREAKING NEW GROUND

To what extent does the vehicle introduce new and effective technology?

BUILT TOUGH

How solid and well-built does the vehicle appear to be?

BUSHABILITY

How practical is the vehicle off sealed roads and on long distances away from service centres, and how easily can it be made more practical via aftermarket enhancement?

DOING THE JOB

How well does the vehicle do the job itís designed for? A family 4x4 wagon, for example, isnít designed to do the same job as a 4x4 ute.

MAHINDRA PIK-UP S10

THE CONTENDERS

BACKGROUND

IF YOUíRE wondering what a Mahindra is doing at 4X4OTY you may be surprised to hear it has a good deal of old-school Ď4x4í in its DNA. Mahindra started in the automotive business by assembling war-surplus Jeeps under licence from Willys Overland in the late 1940s and has been building Jeep CJ lookalikes ever since.

Mahindra ĎCJsí were first sold in Australia in 1990, while the first Pik-Up, the forebear of what we have here, arrived in 2007. Between now and then thereís been a few changes (most notably a new 2.2L engine in 2011), but this latest Pik-Up is very much a topto-bottom rebirth that brings new cabin fit-out, a six-speed manual gearbox (replacing the previous five-speed), the now mandatory electronic stability control, and detail changes to the engine, body and chassis in the interests of ride, handling and improved NVH.

TOURING

ON PAPER the Pik-Upís 103kW and 330Nm from its 2.2-litre diesel doesnít look too promising given the Pik-Up weighs more than 2000kg unladen and has upright light-truck-style body whose design would appear to owe little to aerodynamic efficiency.

Thankfully, that on-paper impression doesnít play out on the highway and the Pik-Up generally gets along without fuss, even if its highway overtaking performance is far from snappy. Relatively short gearing from the six-speed manual helps the engine flatten the hills, yet at the same time the engine doesnít feel overly busy at highway speeds thanks to its surprising level of refinement.

The Pik-Up may be the least expensive vehicle here, but its engine is far from the least refined. Proof of the engineís impressive performance also comes with its fuel use. Despite its compromised aerodynamics and the fact you often have to push it hard to keep up with the seven other more powerful vehicles, it still wasnít the heaviest on fuel by a good margin.

The chassis didnít do anything wrong either, even if the unladen ride can be hard and sometimes bouncy on bumpy roads. Still, thatís to be expected, as previous maximum payload testing has shown the Pik-Upís chassis is happy to carry its substantial payload; so a supple unladen ride is a big ask. The road and wind noise at highway speeds isnít bad, either.

THE PIK-UP MAY BE THE LEAST EXPENSIVE HERE, BUT ITS ENGINE IS FAR FROM THE LEAST REFINED

WITHOUT DOUBT IT PROVED THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE EIGHT VEHICLES ON THE TEST

TRAIL DRIVING

IF THE Pik-Up felt better than expected on the highway it really came into its own on the variety of off-road tracks we tackled. Most noticeably in this company the upright driving position provided the best vision and the ability to easily place the Pik-Up on the track exactly where you wanted. If you did miss seeing something nasty the Pik-Upís reasonable ground clearance, robust underpinnings and old-school tall and narrow tyres on 16-inch rims engendered a degree of confidence lacking in many of the others.

The part-time dual-range 4x4 system Ė operated via a big rotary dial on the centre console and using a BorgWarner transfer case Ė works well and without delay and provides reasonable low-range reduction. The positive clutch take-up, well-calibrated throttle, good off-idle response and general engine flexibility (maximum torque from 1600rpm) are also off-road positives.

SET -PIECE HILL CLIMB

OUR SET-PIECE hill climb is not only very steep but has deep holes that are primarily designed to test Ė to the max Ė the suspension travel and the subsequent effectiveness of what traction aids a vehicle possesses. Itís also a telling test of gearing.

The Pik-Up has reasonable travel from its rear live axle but isnít blessed with a great deal of travel from its torsion-bar, independently sprung front end. However, the Pik-Up does have an Eaton self-engaging (mechanical) locker in the rear axle and, helping things further, the electronic traction control stays active on the front axle even when the Eaton is locked. The end result is that the Pik-Up managed to clear the set-piece climb; although, in a rather dramatic fashion, with lots of wheel lifting and body movement due to the limited front travel. Lower gearing would be handy for both the climb and descent.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

YOU SIT very upright in the Pik-Upís tall cabin and, while itís generally comfortable, you sit close to the door, and the door armrest is hard and the steering wheel doesnít adjust for reach. On the positive side the driverís seat has height adjustment and thereís a fold-down centre armrest for the driver and frontseat passenger. The rear seat offers plenty of leg-room for taller passengers, but itís a bit of a squeeze for three adults width-wise.

Our test Pik-Up was the up-spec S10 model, which runs a six-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, reversing camera, Bluetooth, auto headlights and wipers, DRLs, and climate and cruise control. Unfortunately the display screen is hard to read, the cabin needs more stowage, and there are no intermittent wipers. And, while the interior fit and finish is okay, it could be better.

This new Pik-Up hasnít undergone ANCAP safety testing, but it has more safety kit since the previous model gained three stars in what was a less stringent test in 2012.

PRACTICALITIES

FACTORY accessories include a winch-compatible steel bullbar (with recovery hooks) and snorkel, accessory trays in place of the factory tub, and a towbar. Nice touches are a manual fuel-pump prime and gas bonnet struts, but it does have a modest tow rating.

SUMMARY

AT $31,990 drive-away the Pik-Up is a lot of 4x4 for the money. It did everything we asked of it without fuss and impressed in the way it went about all it did. Without doubt it proved the biggest surprise of the eight vehicles on the test.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 POWER

The turbo-diesel isnít a powerhouse, but itís a no-fuss performer.

02 DRIVERíS SEAT

The upright driving position gives better vision than its rivals.

03 ALLOYS

The 16-inch spoked alloys run old-school, tall and narrow tyres.

04 BRANDED

Tailgate branding mixes brightwork with a big painted decal.

05 4X4 REVISITED

The Pik-Up has a raft of time-honoured 4x4 attributes.

SSANGYONG REXTON ELX

THE CONTENDERS

BACKGROUND

SOUTH KOREAíS SsangYong has had somewhat of a confusing history in Australia. It first appeared in 1996 when its Musso 4x4 wagon was sold via Mercedes-Benz dealers. That was off the back of a resource-sharing arrangement that SsangYong and Benz had initiated at the time. Shortly after, SsangYong sales migrated to Daewoo dealers after the fellow South Korean automaker bought a controlling interest in SsangYong in 1997. After Daewoo went bust a few years later, SsangYong models were imported via thirdparty distributors until that ceased a few years back.

Thankfully, all that turmoil should be laid to rest as SsangYong has, as of 2018, set up a factory-owned and backed distributor here in Australia, which should bring stability to the brand and peace of mind for potential buyers. The Rexton we have here is a brandnew design and the first of a number of models SsangYong will introduce in upcoming months. It was all-new in 2017 and shares little with the previous Rexton sold here.

Like Mahindra, SsangYong also has a strong 4x4 background via a Jeep connection, given it built Jeeps for the US Army in the 1960s and subsequently produced its own Jeep CJ lookalike.

The Rexton we tested is $46,990 drive-away, so the second leastexpensive vehicle on the short list.

TOURING

THE MERCEDES-BENZ connection is still evident with the sevenspeed auto that backs a recently designed SsangYong 2.2-litre diesel with impressive power (133kW) and torque (420Nm) for a small-capacity single-turbo diesel. Itís also Euro 6 compliant, so itís ahead of the game in Australia in terms of emission requirements.

The engine and gearbox combine nicely for a notably quiet, refined and slick powertrain that produces more than reasonable highway performance despite the fact the Rexton is one of the heavier vehicles here.

The Rexton offers a mostly compliant, supple and car-like ride as itís the only one here with independent rear suspension despite still having an old-school 4x4 separate chassis. At higher speeds on bumpy and rough roads it does, however, feel a little under-sprung and under-damped and it became a little Ďfloatyí at times, while the high-speed steering feel isnít as precise as it could be.

TRAIL DRIVING

THE REXTON is a modest performer on rough tracks, as it lacks suspension travel and the electronic traction control isnít notably effective. Whatís more, both ground clearance and over-bonnet vision arenít great, which makes it harder to place the vehicle. It still went everywhere we wanted to take it, but it worked harder than any of the other shortlisted vehicles to do so when the tracks became steeper and gnarlier.

The Rexton has a part-time dual-range 4x4 system operated via a rotary dial on the centre console, while Ďmanualí control of the gearbox can be had via a somewhat awkward rocker switch on the side of the shifter.

THE ENGINE AND GEARBOX COMBINE NICELY TO PRODUCE A QUIET, REFINED AND SLICK POWERTRAIN

THE REXTON APPEALS AS A MODERN, CONVINCING, WELL-BUILT 4X4 FAMILY WAGON

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

GIVEN its modest performance on the trails itís no surprise the Rexton was the only one that couldnít make it up our setpiece climb. In fact, it couldnít even scale the initial part of the climb which is far less steep and less rutted than the mid and top sections. Thereís simply not a lot of wheel travel, and the electronic traction control, perhaps tuned more for on-road rather than off-road use, isnít clever enough to make good the shortfall.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

OUR TEST Rexton, an ELX, sits in the middle of a three-model range. The less expensive EX model has a petrol engine, while the top-spec Ultimate is mechanically the same as the ELX, just with more fruit. The ELX is well-loaded for kit (especially at the price) and comes with third-row seating, autonomous braking, nine airbags, heated and cooled front seats with electric adjust, heated rear seats, tyre pressure monitoring, lane-departure, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, an eight-inch touchscreen, and smartphone connectivity via the popular apps, among a long list of standard features.

The cabinís fit and finish is excellent, too; although, itís busy and somewhat garish. The driver has tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, but the seat is a bit flat and hard and didnít find favour with many of our testers. Some switchgear and minor controls are also confusing and take a little while to get used to.

Thereís a good back seat, however, with plenty of room for tall adults sitting behind a tall driver or front passenger. Not so good is the second-row middle seat (children only) or the third-row seat, which, while wide enough, badly lacks leg- and foot-room.

The Rexton hasnít been ANCAP tested at this stage but has received a five-star rating in the equivalent Korean crash test.

PRACTICALITIES

THE REXTON is rated to tow 3500kg, and its 727kg payload rating is a little better than most. However, the 70-litre fuel tank and average fuel efficiency means touring range could be better.

The Rexton draws its intake air from under the bonnet lip, so care needs to be taken with deeper water crossings. No heavy-duty recovery points, either, only tie downs; although, the standard 18-inch wheel carries a decent-sized tyre in the form of 255/60s, which means going one size up to 265/60s opens up a wider choice of all-terrain rubber. Donít expect too much support from the 4x4 aftermarket, unless Rexton sales take off.

SUMMARY

THE REXTON appeals as a modern, convincing, well-built 4x4 family wagon thatís packed with equipment given the very reasonable $46,990 drive-away price. It generally drives very well on the road and is useful in moderate off-road conditions, but itís less happy when off-road conditions become more difficult.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 ENGINE

The 2.2L turbo-diesel is a recent design that packs a bit of punch.

02 INSIDE

Apart from a few quirks, the cabinís fit and finish is excellent.

03 TYRES

18-inch wheels carry a decent-sized tyre and plenty of A/T options.

04 WADING

Under-bonnet air intake, so take care when crossing water.

05 REBIRTH

The Rexton is an all-new model that shares little with its forebears.

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK V6

BACKGROUND

THE V6 Core is a brand-new Amarok variant and comes just two years after the 3.0-litre diesel V6 first appeared in the Amarok, but the basic design is effectively the oldest here. The Amarok (with its various four-cylinder engines) first arrived in 2010, while the V6 engine dates back to 2004 and has been widely used in a number of Volkswagen and Volkswagen-family models including the Porsche Cayenne and numerous Audi sedans and SUVs.

This is the second appearance of an Amarok V6 at 4X4OTY In its first appearance in 2016 it finished second in a photo finish to the then revamped Toyota LandCruiser 79 Series dual cab.

The Core is the new price leader in the Amarok V6 range, a stripped-out budget variant that undercuts the previously cheapest model (the Sportline) by $3K, making it the third cheapest of the eight shortlisted vehicles ($50,900 drive-away) despite being the most powerful of the lot.

TOURING

THE COREíS highway persona is dominated by the strong performance produced by its torquey and powerful V6. This engine has all the grunt you want at low engine speeds (550Nm available at 1500rpm) but also revs out sweetly and willingly when asked.

Rated at 165kW it produces 180kW in the crucial highway overtaking gears (third and fourth) at wider (70 per cent and over) throttle openings, which gives more zing when wanted. In this company the Core comfortably tops the rest when it comes to getup-and-go. Good refinement, too, from the engine, even if it makes its presence felt through being a bigger Ďsixí in the company of mostly small Ďfoursí. The slick eight-speed ZF auto offers near seamless changes and nicely proactive shift protocols.

The Amarok is a big ute that feels small, nimble and handles sweet by ute standards. Unladen the ride can still be a little sharp on some roads, but the chassis is still very nicely balanced front to rear even without a load in the tray.

Bonus Ďtouringí points for the full-time 4x4 system, only one of two vehicles in the shortlist so equipped. Full-time 4x4 makes life easy in mixed touring conditions where, in a part-time 4x4, you may have to switch in and out of High-4. Throw in wet roads Ė sealed or unsealed Ė and the system is even better and safer.

IN THIS COMPANY THE CORE COMFORTABLY TOPS THE REST WHEN IT COMES TO GET-UP-AND-GO

THE AMAROK IS A BIG UTE THAT FEELS SMALL AND NIMBLE BY UTE STANDARDS

TRAIL DRIVING

THINGS get even easier when you hit the trails. No need to engage drive to all four wheels, as all wheels are already being driven. And unlike some full-time 4x4s you donít even have to lock the centre diff as it locks automatically. Thereís not even low range to engage, as the relatively short first gear and specially calibrated torque converter effectively negate the need for low range.

It all works a treat, helped by the Coreís generous wheel travel and good visibility. Reasonable ground clearance, too; although, itís a little low under nose, so itís a good thing itís well-protected there. Interestingly, the 245/65s fitted to the Coreís 17s are smaller in diameter than the factory-spec tyres on the 18, 19 or 20-inch rims, so you lose a little clearance there. A notably low specified wading depth of 500mm is more of a concern and arguably the weak link in the Coreís off-road skill set.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

GIVEN the Core doesnít have low range it shouldnít even be able to look at our steep set-piece climb, but, as other Amarokís have done before it, it conquers it without much fuss (thanks largely to the good wheel travel) once the driver-switched rear locker is engaged, which also keeps the ETC active on the front wheels. Engaging the rear locker or switching off stability control in soft sand are the only two off-road driver interventions needed; although, there is a third switch (labelled Off-Road) that activates hill-descent control if desired.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

COMPARED to the Sportline, not an overly flash variant itself and previously the least expensive Amarok V6, the Core loses climate control, auto wipers and headlights, three 12-Volt outlets including one in the tub, body-coloured mirrors, a light-lift tailgate, and a few trim features. It gains some 4x4-friendly kit including 17s (instead of 18s) and vinyl floors with fitted rubber mats instead of carpet.

The Coreís cabin is understated but, while it has the quality finish of other Amaroks, the blanks for the omitted 12-Volt outlets and the back-to-basics air conditioning let you know that this is the budget model. As do the Coreís vinyl floors and rubber mats, even if they are a major bonus at clean-up time.

Like all Amaroks thereís tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, spacious and comfortable front seats and a notably wide rear seat. However, like all Amaroks, there are no rear cabin airbags. It has a five-star ANCAP rating, but that was achieved a few years back and the goal posts have since moved.

PRACTICALITIES

A 3500kg tow rating and the power to fully exploit it, a standard tub liner, and a near one-tonne payload combined with the ability to fit a pallet between the wheel arches are all positives.

Thereís plenty of aftermarket support to address the wading depth issue and the lack of heavy-duty recovery points beyond the standard screw-in towing eye. Plenty of space, too, in the wheelarches for bigger tyres, which it could do with.

SUMMARY

AT $50,990 drive-away the Core offers plenty of very good ute for the money. It excels in performance, on-road dynamics, simplicity of operation in 4x4 conditions and general practicality. However, for an extra $3K the V6 Sportline might still be the better buy.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 POWER BOOST

Torquey V6 can jump from 165 to 180kW when required.

02 UTILITARIAN

The quality is there, but you notice itís still a bare-bones model.

03 RUBBER

Among the Coreís host of 4x4-friendly kit are 17-inch wheels.

04 4MOTION

Lauded full-time 4x4 system eases on- and off-road transitions.

05 AFTERMARKET

Decent aftermarket support can address off-road shortcomings.

FORD RANGER XLT

BACKGROUND

THE RANGER XLT is one of three Fords on our shortlist with Fordís new 2.0-litre bi-turbo four-cylinder diesel and 10-speed automatic powertrain, which is a world apart from the relatively low-tech 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel (with its six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes) that has been at the very heart of the Rangerís success since this generation first appeared in 2011.

However, you could say this new Ranger represents a generational change as it brings the new high-tech powertrain, significant chassis revisions, new safety equipment including autonomous emergency braking, and a host of detail changes both seen and unseen.

The new powertrain is currently offered in XLT and Wildtrak models where it will sell alongside the existing 3.2-litre engine as Ford hedges its bets on customer acceptance of the new engine. Thereís no manual with the new 2.0-litre engine, so keeping the 3.2 in the range stops manual buyers having to look elsewhere.

Our test Ranger is an XLT, traditionally the most popular variant in the dual-cab range, optioned up with leather seat trim (+$1650) and the Tech Pack (+$1700), which brings the extra safety kit led by autonomous braking thatís standard on the Wildtrak. That means itís $57,340 plus on-road costs.

TOURING

ANY DOUBTS that the little four isnít up to the job of powering a relatively big and heavy vehicle like the Ranger instantly evaporate as soon as you get behind the wheel, especially on the highway. On paper the 2.0-litre four claims more power (157kW vs 147kW) and more torque (500Nm vs 470Nm) than the 3.2-litre five, and these numbers donít lie. This little engine feels like a bigger engine in the effortless way it makes its power. Itís still no rocket at overtaking, but itís not bad either.

More impressive is how quiet and smooth this engine is, as well as the near-undetectable and seamless changes from the slick 10-speed automatic; the combination bringing impressive newfound refinement to the Ranger. The new engine also delivers better fuel efficiency, which was never a strong point of the 3.2.

The suspension revisions bring what is a remarkably supple and refined ride for a ute, while, as ever, the feel and connection from the electric power steering at highway speeds is excellent.

The Tech Packís radar cruise control and traffic sign recognition, which tells you what speed limit applies at any time, are also handy features.

THIS NEW RANGER REPRESENTS A GENERATIONAL CHANGE

A MORE REFINED AND COMFORTABLE VEHICLE THAN ITS PREDECESSOR

TRAIL DRIVING

THE RANGERíS electric power steering not only brings benefits at highway speeds but also effortlessly light steering at trail speeds. The Rangerís generous ground clearance, long wheel travel and effective electronic traction control make short work of difficult trails; although, over-bonnet visibility could be better.

The Rangerís basic dual-range part-time 4x4 is operated via a centre-console rotary dial, while the manual selection of gears, needed more when off-road, is operated via a rocker switch on side of the shifter, a feature not universally liked by our judges.

Interestingly, Ford claims the same 800mm wading depth of 3.2 with the 2.0, despite the air intake being behind the bonnet lip rather than via the inner guard.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

THE LONG wheel travel and well-calibrated electronic traction also proved the trick on our set-piece hill climb the Ranger cleared, even without the need for its driver-switched rear locker. With the locker engaged it made the climb even more easily, due in part to the fact that engaging the rear locker doesnít cancel the traction control on the front wheels.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

SMART-KEY entry and push-button start headline a number of changes to the Rangerís cabin, but thereís still no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, only tilt. Not that it seems to matter as the Rangerís driving position and seat comfort is excellent. As ever the cabin is big and roomy and offers combined front and rear legroom that no other dual cab can match.

The niggles are as before: the HVAC controls are too hard to read, some of the switchgear is fussy and the display menu isnít as simple as it could be. I guess with time you get used to them.

This new model Ranger hasnít undergone ANCAP testing, but the previous model gained five stars in late 2015.

PRACTICALITIES

DESPITE the much smaller engine, the Ranger retains its 3500kg tow rating and one-tonne (but fractionally improved) payload figures, something we didnít test on 4X4OTY

A towbar, tub liner, light and 12-volt outlet are all standard. New is a spring-loaded tailgate that is lighter to close and open.

Given its sales volume the Ranger is well served by the aftermarket, but some of the new modelís changes like the engine air intake, new front-end styling and suspension changes mean a redesign of some aftermarket items.

As ever the Ranger carries a common wheel and tyre spec (same as Hilux), so thereís plenty of tyre options and availability of replacement tyres when in remote locations.

SUMMARY

THE NEW 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine and 10-speed auto bring a more refined and quieter driving experience to the Ranger, and more performance, too, thanks the closer gearbox ratios and beefier power and torque outputs. The chassis changes reinforce the fact that this is a more refined and comfortable vehicle than its predecessor.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 POCKET DYNAMO

The new 2.0L bi-turbo engine packs more power and torque.

02 AT THE WHEEL

The Rangerís driving position and seat comfort are excellent.

03 TYRE CHOICE

A wide range of tyre options are available for the Ranger.

04 PEOPLEíS CHOICE

The XLT is traditionally the most popular in the dual-cab range.

05 CARPET RIDE

Suspension changes bring a supple and refined rideÖ for a ute.

FORD EVEREST TREND

BACKGROUND

THIS IS the second appearance of an Everest at 4X4OTY Three years ago, it not only made the 4X4OTY shortlist but took out the award from a strong field that included the then-new Toyota Hilux.

Now, thanks largely to its new 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine and 10-speed auto, the Everest is back for a second tilt at the award. In addition, the 2019 Everest also sees a revision to the front suspension, more safety and convenience kit, and a minor facelift.

The new powertrain is the only choice for buyers of the topspec Titanium and is optional in the mid-spec Trend, which is also available with the 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel and six-speed auto. The entry-level Ambiente only comes with the 3.2. What we have here is the Trend, which is $61K plus on-road costs with the new 2.0 powertrain attracting a modest $1200 premium over the 3.2.

The Everest is Ranger-based, though key technical differences exist with the adoption of a full-time 4x4 system (in place of the Rangerís part-time 4x4) and coil springs for the rear live axle.

TOURING

MORE THAN anything else the new 2.0-litre powertrain brings refinement rather than any significant improvement in performance to the Everest. This new engine is notably quiet and smooth, while the 10-speed automatic is that smooth and slick you barely notice when itís changing gears. The taller final drive gearing (compared to the 3.2) combined with the already tall eighth, ninth and tenth gears means the engine just lopes along at touring speeds. And, while the powertrain only marginally improves the performance over the 3.2, it still carries the taller gears well, is effortless in general driving and provides better fuel economy than the somewhat thirsty 3.2.

The Everestís powertrain refinement is complemented by a supple, comfortable and quiet ride, in part helped by the suspension revision. The Everest also handles and steers very well for a plush-riding 4x4 wagon, while its full-time 4x4 system offers convenience, all-roads grip and a good dose of safety, especially on wet bitumen and the like.

The Everestís radar cruise control is another touring bonus; although, having to go through one of the settings menus to switch from normal cruise to radar cruise is far from ideal.

THE EVEREST IS A COMFORTABLE AND COMPETENT TRAIL VEHICLE

GOOD FUEL ECONOMY AND AN 80-LITRE TANK PROVIDE A TOURING RANGE OF AROUND 800KM

TRAIL DRIVING

FULL-TIME 4x4 brings convenience once you hit the trails, and you donít have to think about locking the centre diff as it happens automatically. The only thing the driver needs to do is select low range, if needed, or lock the rear diff, which is rarely needed unless the track is particularly difficult.

The Everest is a comfortable and competent trail vehicle; although, vision from the driverís seat could be better, and the rocker switch on the side of the shifter (for manual selection) isnít as natural to use as the sequential side-gate shift.

The Everest offers Terrain Management that usefully tweaks the throttle mapping, the gearboxís shift protocols, the centre diffís operation and the traction and stability control systems. In low range you can select Normal or Rock modes, while in high range you can select Normal, Snow/Mud/Grass or Sand.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

THE EVEREST was another vehicle that failed to get up our set-piece climb without its rear locker engaged, but it managed to clear the climb once the driver-switched locker was brought into play. As with the Ranger, engaging the rear locker keeps the traction control active on the front wheels, a difference you notice on any 4x4 which cancels the traction control completely if the rear locker is engaged.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

THE EVEREST has a spacious, comfortable and well-appointed and -finished cabin. Highlights include a comfortable driving position, the flexibility that fore and aft adjustment on the middle seat brings, and a good amount of space behind the thirdrow seats. Negatives include the hard-to-see HVAC controls, fiddly switchgear and complicated display menus.

Standard equipment (on the Trend) extends to smart-key entry and start, leather, power-adjust driverís seat, dual-zone A/C, eightinch touchscreen, sat-nav, 10-speaker audio with digital radio and CD player, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, and LED DRLs. Safety kit includes autonomous braking, radar cruise, lanekeeping assist, and front, side, curtain and driverís knee airbags. Everest had a five-star ANCAP rating in 2015 and, while there are no test results for the new model, it has extra safety kit.

PRACTICALITIES

THE EVERESTíS good fuel economy and 80-litre tank provides a touring range of around 800km, the best of our shortlisted vehicles. A practical and common wheel and tyre size and the ability to fit 17s in place of the standard 18s enhances the Everestís practicality as a remote tourer. The Everest now draws its engine intake air from under the bonnet lip rather than via the inner guard; although, this hasnít diminished the claimed wading depth. However, there are no heavy-duty recovery points, only a tie-down point at the front and a rear screw-in towing eye.

Interestingly the 2.0 Everest is rated to tow 3100kg, which is 100kg more than the 3.2; proof of Fordís faith in the smaller engineís ability to do a big job.

SUMMARY

THE NEW 2.0-litre/10-speed powertrain appears in all three Fords here, but arguably finds its happiest and most appropriate home in the Everest, given its excellent refinement sits perfectly with what you want in a family 4x4 wagon.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 NEW POWER

The powertrain has the refinement ideal for a 4x4 family wagon.

02 DRIVE TIME

Driving position is comfortable, though vision could be better.

03 FLEXIBILITY

Tyre choices expand, with the choice of 17s instead of 18s.

04 THREE MODELS

The Trend is the midspec model of three Everest variants.

05 LOCKED

The rear locker was needed to complete the hill-climb test.

HSV COLORADO SPORTSCAT+

BACKGROUND

HOLDEN Special Vehicles (HSV) is a company commonly associated with tweaked Commodore V8s, HSVís main game since its arrival in 1987. With the demise of the locally built Commodore and indeed any Commodore with a V8, HSV has now turned its expertise to the Colorado ute which just happens to be Holdenís best seller.

HSV has taken the Colorado dual-cab 4x4 and produced two models, the SportsCat and SportsCat+. Both get a new off-roadfriendly taller wheel and tyre package and beefier front springs, the combination of the two providing around 45mm of lift at the front, 20mm of lift at the rear and a wider track. The rear springs remain stock, while MTV dampers are fitted all íround. In an important piece of engineering HSV has braced the front spring/ damper strut top mounts, which helps eliminate chassis flex in this critical area and achieves better suspension control.

The SportsCat+ (as tested here) then adds larger brake rotors and four-piston AP Racing callipers up front and a rear swaybar that automatically decouples when low-range is engaged. The price for a SportsCat+ starts at $68,900, with our test vehicle adding a couple of options (sailplane and tub liner) to take the price to $70,500 (plus on-road costs).

TOURING

DESPITE its association with high-performance engines, HSV has left the Coloradoís 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel untouched in the SportsCat. Not that itís a problem as the 147kW/500Nm engine lives up to the promise of its on-paper outputs to deliver plenty of punch when needed, all helped by what is a very sporty and proactive six-speed auto. The slightly taller gearing and increased rolling resistance of the new wheel/tyre combination, plus the extra weight and increased aero drag, will mean some diminution in performance from a standard Colorado, but itís not noticeable.

What you do notice, and something thatís less pleasing, is the fact this engine is somewhat noisy and harsh compared to more recently designed diesels which are becoming more refined and less diesel-like with each new model.

Much of HSVís chassis work has gone into producing a more sporty on-road drive, which the SportsCat delivers; but this comes at the expense of ride quality, which is on the firm side. Plenty of tyre noise, too, on some road surfaces.

Suspension control is very good Ė even at higher speeds on poor roads Ė and the SportsCat feels better the harder you drive it. Terrific performance from racing-quality brakes, too.

THE SPORTSCAT DOESNí T HAVE A REAR LOCKER, BUT IT DIDNí T NEED ONE TO CLEAR THE CLIMB

MUCH OF HSVí S CHASSIS WORK HAS GONE INTO PRODUCING A MORE SPORTY ON-ROAD DRIVE

TRAIL DRIVING

THE SPORTSCATíS extra ride height and robust Cooper Zeon LTZs make for worry-free driving on the roughest tracks, given thereís less chance of damaging the undercarriage or shredding the sidewall.

The SportsCat isnít overly endowed with wheel travel, but effective traction control helps it get over the gnarly bits without fuss. The gearboxís shift protocols also work well off-road, as does the sequential-style shift in the gearboxís manual mode.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

THE SPORTSCAT managed to clear our set-piece climb without much fuss. You can put that down to its more aggressive tyres and good performance from the electronic traction control. Before the Coloradoís MY17 upgrade the traction control didnít work too well off-road, but that was one of many things Holden engineers addressed very successfully at the time. HSV then recalibrated the system for the SportsCat. The SportsCatís auto decoupling rear sway also comes into play here, as it restores the rear wheel travel to what it would be. The SportsCat doesnít have a rear locker, but it didnít need one to clear the climb.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

THE SPORTSCAT retains the simple dash layout and controls of the Colorado, but isnít notably well-finished. Most of our judges complained of the hard seats and the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Like the Colorado, the SportsCatís rear seat is mid-field in the dual-cab ute class in terms of room.

Standard equipment includes leather trim, heated front seats (with electric adjust for the driver), sat-nav, auto headlights and wipers, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a rear-view camera. Safety kit runs to seven airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, lanedeparture warning and forward-collision alert. The SportsCat itself hasnít been ANCAP tested, but the Colorado, with the same safety features and body structure, is five-star rated.

PRACTICALITIES

THE SPORTSCAT comes with two heavy-duty recovery hooks up front, but their shape means thicker shackles canít be used. As with most utes there are no rear recovery hooks. The SportsCat has the same 3150kg GVM as the Colorado and therefore a lower payload, given the higher kerb weight. It does have a higher (6300kg) GCM; although, max tow rating stays at 3500kg.

The SportsCat comes with a hard tonneau complete with a quick-release system for easy removal, though this requires at least two people. The soft-open tailgate is a nice touch.

Like the other Ďmodifiedí ute on the shortlist (the Ranger Raptor), the SportsCat paid the price for its modifications with increased fuel use, though not to the same extent as the Ford.

SUMMARY

HSV engineers have managed to make a ute that is both better on-road and better off-road than a standard Colorado, a fair achievement in anyoneís books as these two ideals are generally mutually exclusive.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 STOCK MOTOR

The 2.8L turbo-diesel is standard Colorado ... itís powerful enough.

02 DRIVERíS SIDE

SportsCat retains the Coloradoís dash layout and controls.

03 TOUGH TREAD

Adding to ride height are 285/60 R18 Cooper Zeon LTZ A/Ts.

04 TAILGATE

The soft-open tailgate will keep the skin on your knuckles.

05 YES!

The HSV ute is better on- and off-road than a stock Colorado.

MERCEDES-BENZ X250D PROGRESSIVE

BACKGROUND

ITíS BEEN well-documented that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class is based on the Nissan Navara D23, but just donít think Benz simply whacked a three-pointed star on the Navara. In creating the X-Class the Navara has been re-engineered from the ground up. Most notably the ladder frame has been strengthened, the front and rear tracks widened, the suspension retuned, the body widened, and a new interior added. Disc brakes replace drums at the rear, while other changes are aimed at improving NVH.

The X-Classís Renault-sourced 2.3-litre bi-turbo diesel and seven-speed auto (as well as the single-turbo and manual gearbox available in other models) are carried over from the Navara.

Why did Mercedes start with the Navara rather than build its own ute from the ground up? Well, once the decision was made that the company wanted a contender in the globally popular one-tonne ute class, it was a matter of expediency, given Mercedes already had a technology-sharing arrangement with the Renault-Nissan alliance and thus access to the Navara.

Our test vehicle is a mid-spec Progressive, but, as is the usual way with the luxury German carmakers, thereís a long list of options that bumps the list price from $59K to $71K.

TOURING

THE 2.3-LITRE bi-turbo diesel may be unchanged from the Navara, but Benz has done much to improve the NVH of what is a fairly noisy engine especially under full load.

The end result of Benzís work is a new-found level of refinement more in tune with the Mercedes name, but the extra 200kg+ thatís been added with the wider body and strengthened chassis does take some edge off the still-good performance thatís helped by the relatively short overall gearing it shares with the Navara. Where contemporary diesel 4x4s are usually geared taller in top gear than 60km/h/1000rpm Ė and even up to 70km/h/1000rpm Ė the X-Class is under 60km/h/1000rpm. For its part the seven-speed automatic is smooth, slick and generally agreeable.

Benzís changes have also brought a feeling of refinement and quality to the ride and road feel of the X-Class that the Navara lacks. The X-Class feels notably solid and well Ďbolted togetherí and is especially quiet on the road, while the ride, even unladen, is supple and compliant for a ute; although, itís a bit underdamped at higher speeds on rough roads.

Confident handling and steering response, too, which is no doubt helped by the wider track and high-speed road tyres.

MERCEDES-BENZ HAS DONE AN EXCELLENT JOB OF RE-ENGINEERING THE NAVARA

THE X-CLASS CLAIMS A CLASS-LEADING GVM OF 3250KG AND A GCM OF 6130KG

TRAIL DRIVING

THE HIGH-SPEED (V-rated) road tyres donít bode well for durability on rocky tracks, but fortunately we had no problems.

Aside from being a little low-slung, the X-Class worked well enough on the more gnarly tracks thanks largely to the compliant suspension and effective traction control. The gearboxís sequential Ďmanualí mode works well off-road, and low-range in the basic part-time 4x4 provides a very useful low-range reduction.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

THE X-CLASS managed to scale our set-piece hill climb, but it needed the driver-switched rear locker to do so Ė engaging the rear locker doesnít cancel the traction control on the front wheels, which is a bonus. In other tests the Navara has struggled on the same hill, so Benzís engineers have done some good work here. However, the deep ruts and holes of the climb did expose the X-Classís modest ground clearance.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

THE CABIN has a sophisticated, luxurious feel about it. If you want a ute that doesnít feel like a ute when youíre sitting in it, this is it. Welcoming and comfortable front seats, too, while the extra cabin width (of X-Class over Navara) makes its presence especially felt in the rear.

All X-Class models are five-star ANCAP rated and have automatic emergency braking, seven airbags, lane-keeping assist, a reversing camera and four-wheel disc brakes. The Progressive (as tested) adds auto wipers, sat-nav, a seven-inch tablet-style screen, and adjustable load-rails on the sides of the tub among other features. On top of that our test vehicle was optioned with the Comfort Pack (includes electric-adjust seats, faux leather and climate control), the ĎCommandí System (a multi-function control for media, sat-nav, etc., that requires familiarity to use properly) and a 360ļ camera. Other options on our test vehicle included the Style Pack (18s, side-steps, roof rails, LEDs, privacy glass and rear sliding rear window) and a sports bar.

PRACTICALITIES

THE X-CLASS claims a class leading GVM of 3250kg and GCM of 6130kg, so more than the Navara and Ranger. In a recent payload test the X-Class wasnít a standout performer with a heavy load onboard and, while the tub cargo restraints are adjustable, the rails they move on are too high in the tub to be useful for securing low-sitting items. The tub has a 12-volt outlet and work light, while the tub liner fitted to our vehicle was an optional extra.

Fitting more robust tyres would be a first-up change, and moving to the popular 265/60 R18 size from the standard 255/60 R18s would fractionally improve ground clearance and open up a wider choice of off-road tyres. The modest 600mm wading depth (the air intake is under the bonnet lip) needs to be addressed for deeper water crossings.

SUMMARY

MERCEDES-BENZ has done an excellent job re-engineering the Navara, but it needed to, as the Navara is far from the pointy end of its class. In fact, in every multi-ute comparison weíve conducted with the D23 it has finished near the bottom. However, while the X-Class is far better, itís also more expensive, especially when options are added to flesh-out the skinny standard equipment list.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 NAVARA ENGINE

The 2.3L bi-turbo diesel is carried over from the Navara.

02 LUX DRIVING

Being a Merc, the X-Class doesnít feel like a ute at the wheel.

03 SOFT SOLES

High-speed road tyres donít bode well for off-road durability.

04 PROGRESSIVE

Our test X250d was the mid-spec Progressive model.

05 IN DEEP WATER

The X-Class has a modest wading depth of 600mm.

FORD RANGER RAPTOR

BACKGROUND

CREATED by Ford Australia with help from Ford Performance, formerly known as Ford Racing and now the high performance division of the Ford Motor Company globally, the Ranger Raptor is what you might call a Ďfactory customí. Thatís because itís both a standard factory model and a customised model at the same time.

As Ford Performance was involved in the development of the Raptor you may be thinking it has a more powerful engine, but thatís not the case, as the Raptor uses the same 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel youíll find in the Ranger XLT and the Everest.

Thatís not to say that the Raptor doesnít offer high performance itís just that it offers performance of another kind, namely chassis performance.

The Raptorís chassis has been significantly altered from a standard Ranger, with key changes being 150mm wider front and rear tracks via different front A-arms and a different rear axle housing, 46mm more ground clearance, 30 per cent more suspension travel at both ends, bespoke Fox-brand racing-technology bypass dampers (the rears have Ďpiggy-backí reservoirs), coil springs and Wattís Link at the rear, four-wheel disc brakes, and 285/70 R17 BFGoodrich All Terrains.

The Raptor is the most expensive of the eight shortlisted vehicles, at $74,990 plus on-road costs.

ITíS RAPTOR FIRST AND DAYLIGHT SECOND ON ROUGH TRACKS, TERMS IN OF COMFORT

THEREíS NO DENYING FORD HAS BUILT AN IMPRESSIVE RECREATIONALLY FOCUSSED 4X4 UTE

TOURING

TO COMPENSATE for the taller gearing from the Raptorís bigger wheel and tyre package the final drive gearing has been shortened by 11 per cent, which is the only drivetrain difference between a standard 2.0-litre Ranger and the Raptor. Just as well, as the Raptorís engine also has extra rolling resistance, increased weight and a bigger frontal area to cope; so this sharpening up of the gearing is most welcome.

This shorter gearing still doesnít bring sprightly highway performance, but the Raptor gets along well enough even if the above mentioned performance impediments are felt with the Raptorís increased fuel use, the heaviest of the eight shortlisted vehicles on test. All the while the Raptorís engine is smooth, quiet and refined and the gearbox provides seamless changes.

Much more impressive from a touring perspective is the wonderfully supple and compliant ride and the extraordinary stability at speed on even the poorest roads.

TRAIL DRIVING

IF THE Raptor makes for an excellent tourer on poor quality roads, itís even better on the trails. In the company of the other shortlisted vehicles itís Raptor first and daylight second on rough tracks, especially in terms of comfort and in the ease that it negotiates the rougher sections of any track. The extra clearance and robust BFGoodrich KO2 light-truck all-terrain tyres also afford a high level of off-road driving confidence.

The Raptor differs from a standard Ranger with its paddle shifters for manual gear selection, as well as its Terrain Management system which has Normal, Sport, Grass/Gravel/ Snow, Mud/Sand, Baja and Rock modes. All modes bar Rock are available in high range while all modes bar Sport and Grass/ Gravel/Snow are available in low range, which is a far better arrangement than the Everestís Terrain Management system.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

SURPRISINGLY the Raptor should have been the weapon for our set-piece hill climb, but it wasnít as good as expected. It got up the hill but needed the driver-switched rear locker to do it comfortably. Why it wasnít better is hard to say; although, this one particular climb isnít a universal yardstick and we would still rate the Raptorís ability to scale a gnarly hill as exceptional for a showroom stock vehicle.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND SAFETY

THE RAPTOR offers a long list of standard features including keyless entry and start, six airbags, leather, heated front sports seats, electric seat adjust for the driver, an eight-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a rear-view camera, auto headlights/wipers, dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker audio system with digital radio, and a 230-volt outlet in the rear of the centre console. The cabin is nicely finished and the dash layout better than the Ranger, while the driverís seat is particularly comfortable. As with all Rangers the rear seat offers good legroom (even behind a tall driver or tall front passenger) and reasonable shoulder and hip-room for three adults.

The Raptor doesnít have the Rangerís radar cruise control or autonomous braking; although, these features are apparently on the way. The Raptor also doesnít have an ANCAP test result; although, thereís seemingly no reason why it wouldnít achieve the five-star rating a standard Ranger gained back in 2015.

PRACTICALITIES

HEA VY-duty front recovery points and heavy-duty rear recovery points integrated into the standard towbar are all welcome touches. Underneath, the rear of the chassis has also been modified to carry a matching 285/70R17 spare, again a nice touch.

No need to go chasing much in the way of aftermarket enhancement, but if you do want bullbar it would have to be purpose-made for the Raptor. Some may also like a snorkel; although, the claimed wading depth is an impressive 850mm, despite the fact that the engine air intake is under the bonnet lip.

However, the tow rating has been dropped to 2500kg and the payload has been reduced by around 250kg, both a result of the more compliant rear suspension.

SUMMARY

SOME people may want a more powerful engine in the Raptor, while others may say the Raptor would be better with a full-time 4x4 system like the Everestís, but thereís no denying that Ford has built a very impressive recreationally focussed 4x4 ute.

A CLOSER LOOK

01 POWER RANGER

Raptor uses the same 2.0L bi-turbo diesel as the Ranger and Everest.

02 EQUIPPED

The nicely finished interior hosts a long list of standard kit.

03 OFF-ROAD TYRES

Tyres of choice are BFGoodrich KO2 lighttruck all-terrains.

04 RAPTURE

Raptor is an excellent tourer on-road, and even better on the trails.

05 GOING DEEP

Claimed wading depth is an impressively generous 850mm.